One thing I forget from year to year about decorating for Christmas is how it brings family so much closer. Memories of other Christmases crowd close around as you pull out ornaments from family and friends. We always used to decorate together, when I was growing up.
Somewhat bafflingly, NTS doesn’t seem to share my mania for decorating for holidays. (Any and all holidays.) I think it may be a man thing. It’s definitely not a family trait; half of the decorations we’ve put up so far have been gifts from his sister or Mama K. The other half are gifts from my family. And one delicate spray of mistletoe that NTS and I bought in a little shop off Princes Street.
The gifts were sweet the first year. Pulling them out now, though, brings a frisson of recognition along with the glow of a gift. Christmas is coming! Time to put out the Christmas tree banner. And a day later: Here’s the reindeer from A! Where should we put it this year? Just as with the tiny candle holders shaped like penguins that we pulled out every year, NTS and I are developing our own family traditions. It’s a strange and wonderful process.
As you can tell, Christmas for me has always been a family affair.
Often, I hear someone say that they don’t mind the downhill part of a climb so much; it’s the uphill that gets them. I admit, the uphill is hard on the cardio side, but I find it’s the down part of a climb that really hits me where it hurts (i.e. the knees). A slow, controlled descent just gets my muscles wobbling.
The long-term solution, of course, is to build up the muscles in my legs. In the short term, though, there are times when other solutions are possible.
For example, hiking the mountain backward.
(There’s an image, right?)
On our Acadia trip in July (see previous posts here and here), we started at the scenic overlook (and convenient parking lot) at the top of Cadillac Mountain. From there, the trail led down a ridge of Cadillac Mtn into the saddle between Cadillac and Dorr, then up the middle of that saddle to a nearly-vertical climb back to the summit. The vertical was the best part. What can I say, I like climbing on things.
I wasn’t sure my theory of backward would work, but in practice I found it remarkably effective. The very steep downhill was much easier while my legs were fresh.
Since most of our hike was over bare granite, the way was marked with blue paint blazes on the stone itself, and by traditional cairns like these. The little houses main ‘straight ahead’.
This week, I’ve been reading another blogger’s posts (here and here here) on camping in downeast Maine with a nostalgia bordering on jealousy. (I suggest you read the rest of her blog, too, it’s the first one I check every day.) To be sure, her tent wasn’t nestled into the shadow of a fifteenth-century castle. But she captures a scene so familiar I can’t help being a bit homesick. Green Coleman stove older than I am, clothesline strung between two evergreens, glimpses of a nylon tent through the young spruces… It looks, in short, the way camping is supposed to look. The way it looks in my head. Early memories die hard. In this case, I can only be thankful.
After wallowing in her pictures for a while, I was thankful that I had been up in Acadia only a month ago, which stopped me from feeling quite so homesick. In fact, I had pictures of my own to wallow in.
A while back, I reported, exhausted, a route map for a hiking trip in Acadia National Park. For the casual hike we planned, it turned out to be epic terrain. Also an epic failure to check the topo map before the hike. A good time, though.
The map doesn’t quite convey the sheer amount of rock we clambered down… and up… and up again…
So I brought you these pictures instead.
The exuberant beginnings.
Here, my lovely baby sister displays what the “trail” looks like. I didn’t expect the Brook Trail to be an actual brook, but I can’t fault the Park Service for truth in advertising.
Three hours later, after 1330 feet of bedrock descent and 900 feet of clambering. Again, that is the actual trail they’re standing on. If it looks like solid granite, there’s a reason for that.
NTS: still going strong. The sun is setting on our side of the valley, but it’s still bright on the side of Dorr Mountain.
A sardonic salute.
Daddy: Did we seriously just climb down that rock face and then up again?
If we rigged a pulley to the top of the mountain…
This is what I did today. (Link leads to a topo map of Acadia’s Cadillac and Dorr Mountains with hiking route and altitudes.)
It was hard.
Obviously, I’m working very hard to bring you new content for the blog. A.k.a. visiting with my family in my annual trip home.
There will be pictures. Cross my heart. But now it’s time for bed.
Mumsy Dearest and one of my little sisters came to visit us in Scotland, which is one of the reasons I’ve been so little around lately. Wave hello:
We found a phone box.
We spent the first few days seeing the sights in Edinburgh while they got acclimated to the climate and the time zone. Happily, those first few days were dry and even, on occasion, sunny. I believe they started with the impression that we had exaggerated the extremes of Scotland’s summers. (They were disabused of this notion the first night we set up a tent. But that’s later.)
The first night, we walked around a bit to get a feeling for the city.
This is Edinburgh Castle. You’ll see it again.
Look at all the phone boxes!
Truly, we are now in Britain. (But not England. Definitely not England.)
The photos from this trip are a collaborative effort, in that we have no idea who took most of them.
A public garden, established circa 1912.
Stay tuned for further adventures and gratuitous photographic evidence!
I spent much of May in the US. Naturally, I thought of nothing but taking pictures for the blog, and especially for you, Dear Reader. When I got back to Scotland, I was too excited about travel and being back in Scotland to sum of my vacation coherently. (So much happened, actually, I’m still not sure I can sum it up coherently. It’s a good thing I took pictures so I can reconstruct the narrative in my head. The Accuracy of memory is highly overrated, anyway–all memory is narrative, reconstructed from what we felt and visualised the last time we accessed the memory. But don’t let that stop you.) Now that I’m revising multiple iterations of a paper, though, it seems like a great time to give you a virtual tour through my memories.
A wildlife sanctuary in eastern MA.
Old Sturbridge Village. In the US, June is actually summer, and the weather was as perfect as it looks.
Mumsy Dearest is fabulous, naturally.
In sunglasses, no on can see you squint. Or blink. Sneezing they might notice.
A very young infant has no conception of objects that exist outside of her immediate awareness. (Just how young has yet to be determined.) That’s why a parent’s “reappearance” in peek-a-boo, so mundane to us, is such a miracle to the child: the parent doesn’t exist, and then she does. It’s a classic early childhood game. With such high existential stakes, though, I can’t help but wonder if it induces some level of stress for the infant. But perhaps the joy of seeing the parent again is worth the existential doubt of separation. At any rate, she must get used to it.
On some level, the flush of homesickness in someone* leaving home for a long period of time is caused by a failure of object permanence. One some deep level of the mind, I don’t quite believe that I’ll ever again see the people and places I’m leaving.
* When I say “someone”, I mean “me”, but I can’t be alone on this one.
For immigrants, especially in times when wooden or steam ships were the only way to cross the ocean, this would have been the case. Even today, refugees and desperately poor seeking a new life say good-bye to their homes forever. But I’m one of the lucky ones, so home is really just a tram ride, a flight, another flight, customs, and a long car ride away. Less than a day, end-to-end.
But when I came over two years ago, I didn’t believe it. Not really. Not in the painful countdown to Christmas, when I actually contemplated buying vastly inflated last-minute plane tickets and showing up unexpectedly on the doorstep. (I suspect part of that was the incredible stress of exams. I have never had such a tense exam schedule as that first December, including my first semester of college, when I wrote four exams in two days and had to switch to my left hand on the last one because my right hand hurt too much. In the UK, your entire grade may be based on the final exam/paper, and it sucks substantially.)
Not during the long phone calls. Maybe a little during the round-robin calls, where the phone would be passed from person to person as Mumsy Dearest and my sisters tried to make cookies and dinner while talking on the phone.
Not when I searched the internet for pictures of Maine in the summer, and then Maine in the autumn.
It wasn’t until after my masters year ended, and I went back home and came back again to Edinburgh, that I was quite certain that everything I loved still existed, and would continue to exist until I was there to see it again.
This is not true, of course. Favorite pizza places close, as NTS discovered this trip. Family pets grow terminally old; expecting a dog to live past fifteen is not really reasonable. People are not immortal either, but of all the realities an expat has to confront, this is the one my mind avoids, and the only one that can’t be avoided. What if something happens, and we’re on the other side of an ocean? The only thing to do about it is to stay home, and expats agree–if not everyone else does–that that’s no way to live. As with many smaller things in travel and in life, you can only make your decisions, trust to luck, and try to accept what comes. And enjoy every minute while you have it. When travelling, all minutes are fleeting. You may not be there when they come around again, so you take them now.
Big things, though–back roads in Maine in the summer, apple orchards, friends in Boston and western MA–these are never going away. Not in my lifetime. That’s what trips home remind me. These places, these things, are there, whether I’m there to see them or not. And more importantly, they’ll be there when I get back.
Since Halloween is over, the Christmas season is apparently well under way.
Now we all roll our eyes, because this is patently ridiculous. Everyone knows that the Christmas season starts the day after Thanksgiving. Or if you have a large extended family, the day after second Thanksgiving. (Growing up, we always earmarked Thursday and Friday for my dad’s side, Saturday and Sunday for my mum’s. It worked surprisingly well, probably because we were so consistent about it that you could plan years in advance. The fact that most of the family lived in New England didn’t hurt, either.)
Everyone bemoans the way the Christmas merchandising season creeps earlier each year, and rightfully so. Christmas is no fun if you’re tired of it before it gets there.
But. There’s a funny things about living abroad from your family. Around here, Thanksgiving marks one of the last days for fiddling with or adding to our Christmas package before we pack it off for home. November is my big month for crafting, for writing cards, for poking around online and figuring out how to box up some Christmas spirit to be opened up–if all goes well with the mail–on Christmas day.
And then there’s the academic year. Classes end around December 5th and the whole school goes into exam mode. (Except me, as I’m neither taking nor teaching classes at the moment. Although I have a conference presentation, which is rather like an exam but in real life. That may be worse.) Thus, all festivities involving the younger–read: still at university–members of the dance group are best held before they study for exams, take said exams, and hurry off home. This schema coincides oddly well with my mail-order Christmas schedule.
After Thanksgiving, there’s a quiet sort of lull in which I slowly decorate the house, break out the cookie cutters and family recipes, and try to decide what festive marks of the season are going to grace our holiday parties. NTS has the dubious pleasure of any gifts I whip up after that. And of seeing the entire apartment decked out in red and green. Mama K. sent an assortment of Christmas print fabrics, so we’ll see where those end up!
So despite the fugly-ass wreath I made Sunday–it turns out that browns don’t fare especially well when you remove the afternoon sunlight–I am rapidly replacing the orange and russet in my schema with red and green. Considering how that wreath came out, actually, that may be a good thing. I may or may not have picked up cookie cutters in Christmas shapes this year, so my cookies will not be all circles and crescent moons like last year. (Fact: they were still delicious.)
Further fact: I actually brought some of my Christmas presents home when I flew back in August, full wrapped and tagged. I put my grandmother’s in a drawer in the TV cabinet. I’ll tell her where to find it come December. I am a Christmas ninja.
So… Happy Christmas planning?